Surgery for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

NYU Langone doctors may use surgery to remove nasopharyngeal cancer that does not respond to radiation therapy or chemoradiation or for cancer that returns after these treatments. Surgery may also be used to remove tumors that are limited to the nasopharynx and do not extensively affect adjacent areas.

For small tumors, doctors may use a minimally invasive approach. Open surgery is required for larger tumors.

Minimally Invasive Endoscopic Nasopharyngectomy

Small nasopharyngeal tumors may be removed through the nasal cavity. This is called endoscopic nasopharyngectomy. Itā€™s considered a minimally invasive procedure because the surgeon does not have to make incisions on the face to remove the tumor.

At NYU Langone, head and neck surgeons, sometimes with the assistance of neurosurgeons, perform endoscopic surgery in the hospital. This surgery requires general anesthesia. Doctors place an endoscopeā€”a thin, lighted tube with a lens at the tip that transmits images to a monitorā€”through the nostrils and into the nasopharynx, near the skull base.

The endoscope enables doctors to view the tumor and important nearby blood vessels and nerves in the skull base. They insert and move small tools along the scope to the nasopharynx to remove the cancer.

Open Surgery for Nasopharyngeal Cancer

If nasopharyngeal cancer cannot be easily removed with a minimally invasive procedure, surgeons may perform open surgery, which involves making an incision in the neck. You are given general anesthesia before surgery.


NYU Langone head and neck surgeons may perform an open nasopharyngectomy, a procedure that requires an incision in the face, neck, or palateā€”the soft portion of the roof of the mouthā€”to remove a large tumor within the nasopharynx.

Often, small areas of soft tissue removed during surgery may need to be replaced with healthy tissue. This replacement tissue, which is called a flap, is still attached to its own blood supply and taken from a nearby area of the body.

General anesthesia is used for nasopharyngectomy and any necessary reconstruction.

Neck Dissection

If radiation therapy or chemoradiation does not shrink cancer in the lymph nodes, our doctors may surgically remove them with a procedure called a neck dissection.

This surgery requires making an incision on the neck to remove the cancerous nodes while sparing vital structures, such as nerves and blood vessels. General anesthesia is required.

Recovery from Surgery

Recovery time after surgery varies from person to person. Generally, people who have an endoscopic procedure may go home the same day or may only need to stay in the hospital for one or two days to recuperate. An open nasopharyngectomy may require a longer stay. People needing a neck dissection can usually go home after an overnight stay.

During your recovery, doctors monitor your health and manage any discomfort with medication.

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